Nate Marquardt, at 33 years old, has reached a crossroads in his lengthy MMA career. Set to face off against young prospect at UFC 158 this Saturday, that event could truly dictate how much gas the experienced fighter has left in the tank.

Not originally slated to fight on the card, his opportunity to once again prove himself in the UFC came when Rory MacDonald pulled out of his rematch with Carlos Condit, causing Ellenberger’s original opponent Johny Hendricks to step in against Condit. Marquardt, signed over from Strikeforce, could truly make waves in arguably the toughest division in the UFC.

But will that be the case? Marquardt fought hard at Middleweight after making his UFC debut in 2005. His efforts got him all the way to a title shot against Anderson Silva, but he was finished via TKO in the first round. After clawing back up the ladder, an early 2010 loss to Chael Sonnen left him in a sort of no man’s land.

That, coupled with a suggestion from friend and training partner Georges St-Pierre, prompted Marquardt to make the cut down to 170 and try his hand there. He was set to face off with Anthony Johnson in the summer of 2011, but injury forced ‘Rumble’ out. Marquardt’s next opponent was Rick Story, but that fight never came to be. The former King of Pancrase was found to have elevated testosterone levels due to undisclosed usage of TRT, and was thus ‘banned’ from the UFC.

Of course, he signed onto Strikeforce and immediately showed the flashes of brilliance that make him such an enigmatic fighter. Facing tough opposition in the form of talented wrestler Tyrone Woodley, Marquardt obtained the Strikeforce Welterweight title with an absolutely vicious flurry up against the cage. It appeared Marquardt was back with a statement victory. But that was apparently short-lived.

Marquardt fought Tarec Saffiedine in his first title defense at the last Strikeforce event ever. Heavily favored to win and go into the UFC with momentum on his side, he was upset by the Team Quest product, who utilized a precise Muay Thai clinic to batter Marquardt’s lead leg into a red, swollen mess. The fight left tons of questions open about the future of Marquardt’s career.

A veteran of 45 MMA fights, Nate Marquardt will need to answer those questions, and answer them fast, if he hopes to regain any sense of relevancy in the deep waters of the UFC 170 lb. division. Laden with talent, Marquardt will absolutely need a win against Jake Ellenberger to make another run at the title. And that will be no easy task.

Both combatants are extremely heavy-handed, with Ellenberger perhaps being the better wrestler while Marquardt holds the distinct advantage in BJJ. It’s a good fight, and a tough one to predict. But most pundits would probably pick Ellenberger rather handily given Marquardt’s last performance. It’s tough to blame them too.

Still, Marquardt retains a ton of talent, experience, and skills that have made him successful. He will obviously need to stay away from PEDs, an avenue that has previously plagued him on more than one occasion.

Will he be able to hang with the top of the UFC Welterweights? That’s going to be very tough. Obviously GSP, Hendricks, Condit, and perhaps even MacDonald would be rather large favorites to beat Marquardt. That may not have been the case had he handled his business against Saffiedine. But he did not, and will now need an impressive victory against no slouch in Ellenberger to fight on towards the mountaintop.

It’s tough to say that Marquardt is done for good, because he’s not. However, in returning to the UFC, and at 170, he has jumped headfirst into a deep pool full of sharks. Will he survive and thrive, or will he drown in the dangerous waters?